New technology that detects and commandeers unauthorized drones, guiding them to land safely, will be commercialized under a licensing agreement between Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Drone Defense Systems LLC of Daytona Beach, Fla.
The technology, developed by Embry-Riddle faculty member Dr. Houbing Song, suggests a safe, affordable way to neutralize rogue drones – without having to shoot them down or force them to crash-land – even in civilian settings, such as outdoor entertainment arenas and airports.
Under the newly inked licensing agreement, Drone Defense Systems received exclusive rights to commercialize the technology, according to Dr. Stephanie A. Miller, executive director of technology transfer for Embry-Riddle’s Research Park. In addition, the company’s founder and CEO, Sotirios George Kaminis, will work with Song and Embry-Riddle to further refine the concept, build a prototype and pursue related products.
Song’s proposed system leverages a network of wireless acoustic sensors to identify a flying drone. To distinguish drones from birds, Song and his Ph.D. students – Yongxin Liu and Jian Wang – built a computer-based neural network that is continuously learning. After the system confirms a drone, the acoustic sensors, working in tandem with beacon receivers, transmit information to a control center.
If the drone is conducting an unauthorized flight, Song’s system uses pattern-recognition techniques to decipher the aircraft’s video-streaming channel and interrupt the broadcast with a warning message.
“For each drone,” Liu explains, “the acoustic pattern might be a little different, but we can tell them apart, just as anyone can distinguish between a songbird and the noise of a crow.”
The system can also hijack the drone’s communication channel to trigger its pre-determined return flight, or otherwise trick the drone into leaving the area, says Song.
Kaminis explains the technology this way: “It disrupts communication between the pilot and the drone. It detects the drone, finds out what language the drone speaks, activates an emulation system that mimics the drone’s language, and snatches control away from the pilot.”
According to Embry-Riddle, the technology addresses an increasing public safety and security risk.
“Reports of drone sightings from pilots, citizens and law enforcement have increased significantly over the past few years,” says Song, who adds that the goal is to “counter unauthorized drones effectively while ensuring low collateral damage and low cost per engagement.”
Military and corporate drone-jamming technologies do exist, Kaminis notes, but the cost of those systems makes them inaccessible for smaller airports or private venues.
By comparison, Song’s system could be manufactured at a lower cost, Kaminis says. It would also work over long distances and in a variety of settings.
“Our solution is friendly,” Song explains. “Rather than destroying the drone, we guide it to a safe landing place.”
This approach offers important advantages, according to Kaminis, whose company already markets another counter-drone technology.
“My existing product is intrusive; it’s considered a weapon because it jams drones and makes them fall out of the sky,” says Kaminis. “The Embry-Riddle technology is non-intrusive, so it is ideal for civilian applications, and easy to export, as it doesn’t fall under ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations).”
Embry-Riddle has filed a U.S. patent application for the technology.